Holy fuck. This was a devil of a learning experience. Seoraksan is one of the big mountain peaks in the Northeast. The range is beautiful in November, and I would highly recommend it to anyone living in the North.
However, I live in Busan, which means Mance and I took about six hours to get from our hood to the bus terminal, to the beach town of Sokcho, the gateway to Seorak mountain. I prepared for the hike by not reading anything about Seoraksan, opting to eat duck soup with the school staff instead. Mance prepared for the hike by getting wasted off soju for the overnight bus ride and packing a Nintendo 3DS which I played instead of sleeping.
We got to Sokcho at 5:10AM, bought two big jugs of water and some Pringles and got a cab. We were on our way to the hostel (Actually, Mance booked us a couple's room in a gated retreat cause that's just how he rolls) when we decided, "Fuck it, let's jsut go straight to the mountain." The cabbie turned around and dropped us off in a mess at the base of the mountain. The info-guy told us it would take 8 hours to get to the top, which was good because we had no food, too much water, extra clothes, winter gear, and even a laptop and other electronics on our back. Mance asked if we should get another cab to a 7/11 since there were none around us, but I told him to fuck off.
And so we proceeded up into the blackness. Using Mance's camera light to read signs and light the path until sunrise. Mance had a full on triple soju hangover, which was not cured in the least by the hangover soup of dried pollack and filth we had at the last restaurant we'd see for six hours.
This is roughly how the Seoraksan hike goes-
From the national park entrance, you can either proceed towards Daecheongbong peak or take the cable car to the fortress on another mountain. We took the North to South path through Biseondae, the most direct route to Daecheongbong. There are two points where you can take other routes, but other than that, the only way you're moving is forward.
The first four hours are a cake walk. We discussed different ways we might leave our DNA on the top of the mountain, and ignored the info guide's estimate of an 8 hour hike. There was barely an incline, and the path was paved for a good 2 kilometers. Our teachers were genuinely concerned for our safety, and told us to pack very heavy as it would be much colder than the weather in Busan. We found ourselves wearing too many layers, and for a while I stripped down to one layer of light merino wool.
The challenge gradually builds up as paths turn to stairs, and stairs turn to stones. It's best to keep moving to keep a steady temperature. I reached a point three kilometers before the peak where I just lie down and closed my eyes. We'd been hiking from 6 till 11 with no food, save for Mance's awful hangover soup with rice. At this point we were so high up that the air felt thinner and less nourishing. I breathed laboriously as Korean hikers passed us by in both directions with hiking poles and gusto. Mance slapped me awake as an ajusshi and his wife stopped to offer us food and syrupy sweet mountain tea. I ate a few rock hard green ddeok cakes stuffed with sesame paste that Mance couldn't stomach- they were that awful. But then he gave us a huge apple and a Hershey's with almonds that boosted morale tenfold. My energy returned so fast, I felt like a video game character who'd just stepped over a health pack. I finished the chocolate, ate a few more pieces of shit, and continued the climb.
Our Korean guardian angel said that the next shelter was only twenty minutes away. Twenty vertical minutes. It was really only at this part of the hike that we felt like we needed our winter coats. The shelter didn't have much more than some outhouses and a supply shop. Mance got some ramen, but they didn't have water- too heavy to carry enough to sell I guess, plus who would be dumb enough to not pack enough water for a hike like this?
We looked around the enclave, and groups were setting up butane grills, boiling ramen, canned tuna, and whatever else they brought in a bright red spicy broth. We looked back at the shopkeeper and bought eight choco pies. He didn't even have the cream kind, just the disgusting stale marshmallow ones.
Daecheongbong peak is 2.0km south of this shelter. From the peak there is a south path to the base, or you can go back down the path to the park entrance. At this point, our eyes were numb to the mountain scenery. Don't get me wrong, Seoraksan is beautiful, but getting to the top doesn't add much, and is only for hardcore hikers. For two bros like ourselves, it was just for bragging rights and curiosity. We took our meager choco pie rations and started the decline.
The entire hike and return took ten hours, allowing for a greasy meal of hemul pajeon on the return.
Overall: Definitely worth the trip if you live in the North. Entrance fee is about two bucks. If you pack appropriately and don't arrive hungover, you'll have a great time.